In class I’ve started reading (again…last time was around 2002) from Erich Schiffmann’s inspiring and profound book, Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness. On the page just inside the cover, the very first two sentences of the book are “The purpose of Yoga is to facilitate the profound inner relaxation that accompanies fearlessness. The release from fear is what finally precipitates the full flowering of love.” As I read that, he’s basically saying that we have a choice: fear or love? If we ponder what is the opposite of love, I personally think the best answers are “fear” or “indifference.” Of course these two are very likely linked in an indifferent individual in an unconscious way. Erich seems to be choosing the “fear” answer. Regardless, it’s true: when fear is no longer our driving motive, which is also then driving aggression, ambition, self-indulgence and/or self-loathing, then love can flower forth. The relaxation of which he writes is an ultimate letting-go, when we no longer cling to a temporary construct, to something that we KNOW will end, in a vain attempt to find or maintain an illusory happiness. This letting-go occurs when we are no longer painfully constricting the Creative Life Force into an apparently separate little self.

Erich’s statement is a beautiful, inspiring and insightful take on the purpose of yoga.

To give a broader perspective, I’ve been sharing an alternate statement that I consider is saying the same thing: “The purpose of Yoga is to calm and clarify the mind so that the natural Love that we are can shine forth unhindered and uninhibited.” We get this mental calm and clarity by coming to and living more and more in the moment, not wasting our mental space in the present with thoughts of the past and the future and thus clogging the inner-flow and clouding and obscuring the Reality of the Moment. Anyone reading this already knows from personal experience that any mental distraction and busyness make it more difficult, sometimes even impossible, to experience Love, not to mention ultimately to BE Love, to realize that we already ARE Love and then to LIVE in that unchanging knowledge/experience.

There are so many ways to say what the purpose of Yoga is, depending on one’s perspective at the moment.

We can also say “the purpose of Yoga is:
-to turn the naturally outgoing attention inward.” (What is Yoga? My preferred answer is, “A way in.”) As long as our attention is focused outward, we are missing the fact that the “outside” is ONLY ever experienced INSIDE and any disturbance of the “inside” will color and change the experience of the “outside.”
-as one woman this week noted, to prepare the physical body for meditation”, assuming we are talking about the physical aspect of yoga; meditation being one long-esteemed way to explore the inner landscape and come to a deeper Knowledge.
-to ‘strengthen the container,’” so that the bodymind can hold and handle more energy, since Self-Realization and is a VERY HIGH energy state.
-to clear out the blocks to the flow of the Creative Life Force so that we can live in the Flow,” thus resulting in the relaxation, love, and release from fear mentioned above. The clearing of these blocks and the holding of more energy as mentioned previously are what produce the side-effect of having more health and comfort in this human body.
-to get some (ultimately total) Inner Peace and evenness of mind.”
-to have a direct experience of the pain that exists inside in order to be more compassionate in our relations with others.” Interestingly, in the Bhagavad Gita, one of the definitions Sri Krishna gives for Yoga is, “the breaking of contact with pain,” or “the disunion of the union with pain.” If we don’t meet our own pain, if we continually, habitually and unconsciously are driven by it without realizing our own current union with it, then the disunion from it that Krishna mentions is impossible.
-to practice and cultivate present moment awareness and joyful participation in it.”
-especially for westerners, to learn to wholeheartedly love ourselves in order to grow beyond our limited view of ourself.”
-real Freedom,” which we could take as freedom of Mind and Heart.
-to realize ourselves as part of an undivided Whole and to thus be able to experience the Bliss of service to the Whole and the pain of limited service to the apparently separate, little self.”

The purpose of Yoga is NOT:
-to make ourselves special.
-to get a “yoga butt” or to have better sex, both of which I have heard as goals of yoga, but which are potential side effects and not to be confused with the real purpose of Yoga.
-to be even more narcissistically self-absorbed in egoistic self-love. We don’t need yoga to do that, obviously!
-to make a lot of money and come up with ever-new marketing strategies to sell this ancient practice. (You know what I’m talking about! …Though if that actually IS a purpose of yoga, I need to shift what I’m doing!)
-to be EVEN MORE bound by and to this temporary vehicle (the body/mind complex).
-to indulge our limitations and weakness, but to explore them in a loving way, learning to discern and then to strengthen what can be strengthened and open what can be opened and to transcend our limitations. Transcending our limitations means to grow beyond them which, in some cases, will mean that we literally move beyond them and, in other cases, that our Inner Spirit realizes itself free and unbound by them

Ultimately Yoga’s purpose is to realize our True Nature, about which we could say some things which would be accurate from a perspective but none of which ultimately ARE accurate, since the purpose of Yoga is to give us AN EXPERIENCE beyond the normal thinking-mind’s capacity and understanding (the thinking mind being necessary to formulate words).

All that you’ve just read is interesting brain candy at best UNLESS we are willing to meet ourselves regularly (daily if possible, even 7 minutes is better than nothing) on our mat and/or meditation cushion and eventually to come to a meaningful agreement or disagreement with all the previous statements based on our own experience. If we aren’t inspired to try to get some experience from our Yoga, to practice toward an understanding of the deeper and inner meanings of the teachings, then we have, AT BEST, gotten some more mental baggage that we will someday have to let go, once we’ve realized how it is causing us personal pain and is limiting us on our Path.

May we all have the strength and perseverance to do the work necessary, to explore the Inner World intently enough and for long enough in order to see through to the natural Love that we are and to relax into it and have it shine forth uninhibited.